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Like it or loathe it, often we have to train early in the morning before the packed out schedule of the day takes over our time. In a perfect world, you’d be up for a few hours so that you give your body temperature a chance to get elevated and you let the fluid that has settled in the discs of your spine overnight have some time to get moving. Instead, there’s that tough choice to make between taking those few extra minutes of sleep and actually preparing and/or eating something properly before training. Plus for many of us, the stomach is still shut down for the night long after we get out of bed, making eating difficult. Here dietitian GABRIELLE MASTON helps us work out what to do.
I try to enforce this rule with all my clients, whether they’re athletes and non-athlete: eat breakfast immediately after waking or especially before 8am. It starts up our metabolism ‘power house’, so we start burning fuel and fat first thing in the morning. If you skip breakfast and then train, your performance declines on average by 15%. If you’re a competitive sports person or trying to build muscle, then that means your morning sessions will be less than adequate to create an enhancement in performance.
For strength training you need 2.5g leucine (an amino acid) to get muscle synthesis (a size increase or rebuilding of individual muscle cells) started pre-workout. That could come from one scoop of protein powder or 600ml of skim milk. It’s recommended to have a high-dairy breakfast or another high-protein source, such as eggs, chicken, tuna, etc. If you are doing moderate to high-intensity cardio-based training, aim to eat higher levels of carbohydrates (30g+) to fuel your workout. Some options are:
If your session is particularly intense, have something small (15g carbohydrate = 1 fruit) just to get things moving. In many people, lactate production during high-intensity training can cause bowel upset or you may feel sick to the stomach while training if you eat too much before training and/or eat too close to training time. This will of course hamper your performance! Experiment a little with foods and just get in what you can, but know your limits.
Early in the morning, people don’t usually leave much time (if any!) to eat before they train. Some think there’s so little time between waking and training that eating in between is not worth it. So is there a minimum time to leave between eating and training in the morning?
There is no timing to this, your body can process food even during training, so eat when it suits if weight loss is your goal.
For competitive athletes, preferably eat one hour before training so that you can make the most of your food and get the nutrients you require from it. However, if you miss this window, then cardio athletes can use high GI (‘simple’) carbs that will absorb into their system faster (even fruit juice or a sports drink), while or strength training athletes can use branch-chain amino acids (BCCAs) for the same reason.
BCAAs (between 10g to 0.1g per pound bodyweight) prior to training will also produce a ‘muscle sparing’ effect, i.e. stop you from excessive muscle breakdown. Protein powders made with whey are also very high in BCCAs, but bear in mind that if you use a stand-alone BCAA product it will have very little or no caloric value, so you’ll need to fuel up well after training.
No – you should still always eat before exercise in the morning in order to get the best metabolic gains. Choosing a low GI (‘complex’ carbs) breakfast in the morning has shown to help you improve and regulate eating patterns better for the whole day, compared to not eating. You will also avoid binge eating after your morning workout because you are starving hungry.
Many people have trouble facing food first thing when they wake up, so the idea of jumping out of bed, eating and exercising is enough to make them queasy.
Start by having a few mouthfuls of anything you can stomach, even if it’s just dry crackers or a piece of fruit, half a glass of milk or a liquid meal such as a protein shake. You’ll get used to eating in the morning, it just takes practice. I also find if you are eating too late in the evening or bingeing on large amounts of food at night, this also affects morning appetite. You may have to cull your intake a little at night so that you to wake up hungry in the morning.
GABRIELLE MASTON IS A CLINICAL AND SPORTS DIETITIAN/NUTRITIONIST, EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGIST AND PERSONAL TRAINER WITH CHANGING SHAPE IN SYDNEY.